I am grateful for ironing.
I like how the task takes all the creases and lumps and bumps and makes them smooth; a metaphor for life. I like the bursts of steam, the warmth and the pssst, a bit of music to my ears.
Men used hankies when I was a kid, big square white ones and it was my job to press my dad’s hankies, to make them perfectly flat, the corners lined up evenly and if there was embroidery on the hankie such as an initial or some emblem, that embroidery was to end up in the bottom right hand corner, the rules very precise. My mother had hankies, too, small ones, delicate ones, but she was on board for the disposable paper facial tissue, probably to reduce the laundry load. Her allergies to just about everything kept a “Kleenex” in her hand constantly. I practiced on tea towels and pillowcases before I graduated to hankies. I stood on an apple crate to iron when I wasn’t tall enough and it took me a long time to be tall enough for just about everything.
When my Grandma Sutherland came to visit she took over the role of Chief Cook and Bottle-washer and that included the ironing. I was demoted. I must confess her ironing skills far out matched my own. Her edges were crisp and perfectly lined up, the folds even and symmetrical and she seemed almost trance-like when she ironed. I suppose she was remembering and pondering and wondering and solving and maybe, every now and then, she was regretting.
When I graduated from hankies and pillowcases to my dad’s shirts, my mother called out the mandatory steps while she marked papers on the dining room table. Collar first. Both sides. Back yoke. Mind the pleat. Cuffs. Sleeves. And so on. She never looked up. Never assessed the damage or the getting-it-right. Hang it up. Top button done up. Give it a shake. Most recently ironed shirts in behind the others. White shirt for Monday. Always white. Colours later in the week.
Then along came Permapress and the need to iron began to fade and has become, in my estimation, a lost art, something of value has been replaced. I seldom iron now, seldom take the time to hone my skill. Thanks to Don Johnson and the 80s most of us feel justified in wearing wrinkled clothing and we even forego the socks on occasion. But when I see someone sporting a perfectly pressed piece of clothing I am tempted to applaud him or her and ask for an autograph.
My childhood home had an ironing basket, positioned strategically beside the ironing board that very seldom was collapsed and put away. This ironing basket sometimes became an ironing bed, the overflow literally flowing out of the basket and over the spare room bed. We never owned a dryer, not until I had grown up and left home, so clothes hung from a wooden “clothes horse” when the weather didn’t allow for drying on the clothesline. Finding clothes to wear became a bit of a mining operation, a digging through the piles for the just the right top and pants. Ironing became hurried and less rigid, fewer rules were followed. I liked when time allowed for a slow-down, a catching up on the ironing and making everything smooth.
There is so little in life that we can control, that we can wield our power over, but ironing seems one of those things that makes sense, the pausing, the lingering over something as simple as pressing clothes flat and smooth. It really is therapeutic and don’t we all need a bit of therapy, especially now when we are bombarded instantly and constantly with the chaos of the world. I think I shall put my pen down and do a bit of ironing and see how life looks when I’m done.